SA Mines and Energy Journal : August - September 2013
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2013 SA MINES & ENERGY JOURNAL INNOVATION 27 The company has invested in excess of $21 million over ve years to fund what is the world's biggest commercial privately-funded external robotics initiative. more than 270 employees to operate and work alongside these autonomous haul trucks, " he says. "Our teams managing this equipment recognise the significant opportunity they have to be up-skilled in a mining system. "The disciplines will range from specialist communications personnel to systems, electronics, software and other niche technical disciplines. Mr Petty says that although some specific roles are likely to disappear over time as a result of the technology, a far greater number will be added or enhanced, with net employment expected to increase. By the end of 2015, Rio Tinto plans to ship one million tonnes of iron ore per day from what will be the largest civilian robotics project in the world. Along with its collaborations with Komatsu, Rio Tinto established the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney in 2007. The company has invested in excess of $21 million over five years to fund what is the world's biggest commercial privately- funded external robotics initiative. And with the primary focus of the research centre to develop and implement the vision of a fully autonomous remotely operated mine, future mines will see more than just driverless trucks: there will also be driverless trains. The company joined forces with international rail specialists Ansaldo STS to design, implement and operate the world's first long haul deployment of heavy haul driverless trains. Known as AutoHaul, the project will develop a modular signalling system to manage train movements from an operation centre in Perth -- 1500km from the actual mine site. This means that a network of more than 150 trains a week carrying more than 10,000 tonnes of iron ore will be remotely controlled, relying on sensors alongside the track to guide them to their location. Owning the entire logistics infrastructure already allows the company to operate using the campaign railway concept, allowing trains to be managed on a shipment by shipment basis rather than run on a regular schedule. Modifications to the fleet including electronically controlled pneumatic braking and 'onboard modules' mean all existing line side infrastructure will need to be converted to capture and transmit real time data to the operation centre in Perth. The first driverless trains will be launched in 2014. "We expect the trains to provide great efficiency, both through removing downtime such as drivers ferrying and changeovers and also through reductions in fuel and CO2 emissions, " Mr Petty says. Although this system is currently exclusive to the Pilbara, Rio Tinto has not ruled out utilising the technology at other operations -- including eventually South Australia. With the company in a joint venture with Tasman Resources in the Vulcan copper-uranium-gold project located 30km from Olympic Dam, the development of an AHS-equipped mine in South Australia is a real possibility. "In terms of rolling out new technologies at other operations, our immediate focus remains on the 150 truck deployment in the Pilbara and continuing trials of other autonomous projects, however, Rio Tinto will look for suitability of the technology in product groups, " Mr Petty adds. So the question remains: how long until we see driverless trucks and trains at mine sites operated from control centres in Adelaide, and a change from the traditional mining methods in South Australia? Only time will tell.
June - July 2013
October - November 2013